Oscar's disability in question over sentencing

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel says Oscar Pistorius's disability is no reason not to imprison him. (Reuters)

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel says Oscar Pistorius's disability is no reason not to imprison him. (Reuters)

Oscar Pistorius’s disability should not be the reason he is not incarcerated, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked social worker and probation officer Annette Vergeer during cross-examination: “Are you saying that disabled people should not be in prison?”

Vergeer responded: “That is not what I said ... what I am trying to say My Lady is that it is more difficult. It is difficult for an able [bodied] person.
So it will be more difficult for a disabled person.”

She told the court that despite his disability, Pistorius coped “very well”. 

Vergeer said the paralympian’s mobility in prison could be impaired when they took away his prosthetic legs. “[It could be a] case for rape within the prison ... gang rape. How can we say that he won’t be exposed to that?” she asked.

“Whether his legs are taken away or not taken away, he will be exposed to that.” She added, “you cannot glue his legs to his body”. Nel said that there was no guarantee that Pistorius’s legs would be taken away if he went to prison.

Prison will ‘break’ him
The court also heard that prison will “break” Pistorius because it leaves physically disabled people vulnerable.

“The exposure of the accused to the inmates on his stumps will have severe negative effects on the accused,” Vergeer said. “It will only have a negative impact and in fact place him in danger. It will not assist him, it will break him.”

She said Pistorius would find it difficult to walk on cement and slippery floors in prison. Vergeer said condoms were freely available in prisons, while sodomy and rape in the overcrowded prisons in South Africa were common knowledge.

“One of the main problems is that the prison environment is not conducive to therapy,” she said. “Psychological treatment in the prison will be negative ... It will break him further.”

She said prisons did not have the facilities to provide therapy because statistics showed that 62% of inmates did not have access to social workers.

Making recommendations, Vergeer said that if the court decided to fine Pistorius it should be “incorporated to address the seriousness of the defence”. Correctional supervision is a strict sentence and sentencing should play a major role in the prevention of future crimes, said Vergeer. “It is recommended that the accused be placed under house arrest for the duration of the sentence,” she said.

“No specific sentence option was suggested ... Sentencing is left in the hands of the court.”

Vergeer said Pistorius was carrying a “heavy load” for the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and that he would continue to carry the load for the rest of his life. She said the media coverage of his case contributed to his exposure.

“Sentence as direct imprisonment will severely impact on the accused as a person, ” she said. “He does not appear to be such a danger to society that he should be removed ... The impact of the death of the deceased has been far worse on him ...”

Barry Roux, for Pistorius, led Vergeer as she gave evidence in the athlete’s sentencing procedures.

Steenkamp’s family
As Vergeer spoke, Steenkamp’s cousin Kim Martins sat in the private gallery wiping away tears and shaking her head. Steenkamp’s parents Barry and June sat looking at Vergeer. Pistorius sat with his head down making notes.

On September 12 Pistorius was found guilty of the culpable homicide of his girlfriend, model and law graduate Steenkamp, but not guilty of her murder. Pistorius had claimed he thought there was a burglar in his toilet when he fired four shots through the locked door in the early hours of February 14 last year, killing Steenkamp. 

The State had argued he killed her during an argument.

Judge Thokozile Masipa also found Pistorius guilty of discharging firearm in public, when he shot from his friend Darren Fresco’s Glock pistol under a table at Tasha’s restaurant in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, in January 2013.

Pistorius was found not guilty on two firearms-related charges – illegal possession of ammunition, and shooting through the open sunroof of a car with his 9mm pistol while driving with friends in Modderfontein on September 30 2012. – Sapa

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